Posted by: mikebackup | June 22, 2013

Falling upward

Galatians 3:23-29

23 Before the coming of this faith,[a] we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

God at work or just me watching out for similar things I’m not sure, but the first part of this reading instantly made me think about ‘Falling Upward’ by Richard Rohr which we are reading at the minute. That says we need the tightness of boundaries and strong parenting and nurturing – a guardian like it says here to enable us to have the faith where we no longer need one. We have two journeys in life, a first one where we get an understanding of who we are and are taught how to live life a life that nurtures you and others. That needs to be done well to enable a second journey that is able and willing to take on the deep challenges of God. Paul is saying something very similar, though at the time there was an emphasis that the practices of Jewish law were no longer needed to know that you were a child of God  – All you need to do is accept Christ and live in him.

You can also look at it this way; If a toddler is living in your house or coming to stay, you need to make sure they are as safe as possible. Why do toddlers need more protection than older children or adults? They are inquisitive and able to move quickly, but they have not yet learned what is safe and what might be dangerous. Just consider the equipment used to keep toddlers safe, including cots, playpens, stair gates, fridge locks and socket covers!

While this equipment keeps toddlers safer, it also restricts them. Cots, playpens, and stair gates restrict which areas they can get to. Fridge locks and socket covers prevent them from reaching anything dangerous, but also mean that they are not able to get out their own food or turn on the TV for themselves. They are not able to get access to every bit of space or every activity that older people think of as part of normal life. At some point they need to be taught what is safe and unsafe and then be trusted to live life without all these restrictions in place

Paul explains that the Old Testament law had been designed to keep God’s people safer. But it had also created some barriers to a full experience of human life. After Christ had come, we no longer needed a nanny protector (or ‘disciplinarian’). In Christ, we are all children of God through faith. Anyone who has been baptised has clothed themselves with Christ. What this doesn’t say is that you do away with a guardian altogether, they are needed to wean us in the ways of God so that we can then do it for ourselves.

Paul pictures the role of the law like the household slave that takes children to school. The point is that, in the era of faith, the children have now come of age and have started to experience the freedom that God has always intended (on freedom see also 1.4; 3.13; 5.1; 5.13; Romans 8). What does this freedom look like? Paul sees it taking shape ‘in Christ Jesus’ (v.28). Here human life is being liberated from the hierarchies that exalt Jews over Gentiles, men over women and owners over slaves, into a new experience of family (notice the family language in vv.26 and 29). By immersing believers in the self-giving love of the crucified Son of God (2.20), baptism introduces a new kind of society in which, for all their differences, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, owners and slaves are all equal.

The baptismal rite provides a vivid illustration of God’s newly-arrived freedom. Pauline writings give the impression that candidates for baptism removed (‘put off’: see Ephesians 4.22; Colossians 3.9) their outer clothes before going under the water and, once they emerged, ‘put on’ new clothes to symbolise their sharing in the risen life of Christ (v.27; see also Romans 13.14; Ephesians 4.24; Colossians 3.10). Whatever their place in the wider social world (indicated then as now by the clothes they wore), the newly-baptised would all be dressed alike to demonstrate their oneness in Christ. Imagine the baptism of a household, headed by a Jewish man who has come to faith. His wife and children, lower in the family hierarchy, join him together with his Gentile slaves. They emerge from the water of baptism as one, re-clothed with Christ. Paul’s vision of baptism is truly sacramental. It offers a foretaste of God’s intention for all humankind, as in Christ (not Moses), we enter into the inheritance promised to Abraham and his seed: the blessing of God’s Spirit that knows no boundaries, and makes us truly alive.

If we have had an experience of being unfairly treated or feeling unequal to other people, Paul’s message that we are all one in Christ is a particularly powerful one.

The principle of equality is one that is recognised in international law: Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says, ‘The Convention applies to every child whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, abilities, whatever they think or say, no matter what type of family they come from’. But laws aren’t always enough. People still get treated unfairly.

Can Paul’s letter inspire us to do the right thing, not because the law tells us to, but because we have experienced the freedom of all being one in Christ? If we are clothed with Christ, we can experience that liberation for ourselves. Paul’s letter challenges us to pass on this blessing from God, to treat everyone fairly and to tackle the barriers to equality and true freedom in our world.


Heavenly Father,
we believe that you created all people to live in harmony;
yet our world is divided by issues of
land, race, politics and religion.
We pray for all those working to bring reconciliation:
at an international level through the United Nations;
within individual nations as they seek to heal
the deeply-felt wounds of the past
and the injustices of the present;
in communities cleft by ethnic and religious tensions;
in the workplace, where labour force and management
may be at loggerheads;
in families, where feuds can be renewed in each generation;
and even in churches, at odds over theology or worship.

Peacemaking is a worthy task, which you have commended;
but it is also painful, costly and time-consuming.
Give grace, strength and patience
to those who have been called to it,
knowing that Christ has already shown us what is possible.

Lord God,
so often we dress to impress:
to present a certain image,
we hope that people will think the best of us.
And we choose to wear the clothes we do
because we feel they express the real ‘us’;
they may even help us hide from ourselves.

Yet, Lord, it doesn’t wash with you;
for you know us intimately,
whatever we may look like on the outside;
you know that the facade and the reality
often fail to correspond.

Forgive us for not accepting ourselves
as the individuals you created;
forgive us for trying to cover up
our shortcomings and faults.

Thank you that you freely pardon us,
and reclothe us in the perfection of Christ.

Lord God, we thank you that your Church is made up
of so many fascinating people!
Some of them are young, full of exuberance and bounce;
others are older, ready to share their rich experience of life.
There are people who are members of large families,
and others who live by themselves.
There are folk from different cultural backgrounds,
bringing richness and variety to the community;
and we all add our own distinct personalities to the mix.
Such variety makes life interesting,
but it can also lead to tensions and misunderstandings.
Help us to learn how to accept each other with enthusiasm,
appreciating, rather than simply tolerating, our differences,
sharing the varied gifts and insights you have given us.
Enable us to show the world how Christ
can bring such diverse people together in peace.
And may our fellowship be a true foretaste of heaven. Amen.

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